As we came into land at Luang Prabang International Airport I was shocked at the amount of smoke in the air. I knew that the smoke was a problem in Thailand with the farmers burning their post-harvest stubble but had no idea it would be the same in Laos. The smoke was so thick you could barely see across the runway to the terminal building. I heard a few days later that they had shut the airport for one day that week because visibility was so low. You could smell the smoke in the air, I can’t find the words to describe it. All I can say is that it wasn’t pleasant and it took me back to the time when they burnt all the cattle in the UK because of foot and mouth disease — it’s clag-like and sticks in your nose and throat. Many people were wearing masks, and we did too, but I’m not sure it made any difference.
The smoke did not detract from the beauty of Luang Prabang, we only thought how much better it would be without it. We had a five-day stay and the smoke hung around for most of the time only lifting for the last two days, when we could actually see across the Mekong and enjoyed a lovely meal in a restaurant right beside the magnificent river.
DINNER BY THE MEKONG
There is no shortage of cafés, market stalls, street sellers etc., in Luang Prabang, in fact every road and every corner and every conceivable place where you could set up a stall, someone would be selling or cooking something. I quite enjoyed the night market, even though the evening we strolled through, the smoke was very bad. We walked around the town during the day and stopped for coffee a couple of times and shopped in a rather lovely boutique. We also visited the Lao Traditional Arts and Ethnography Centre where I learned a little about the different ethnic origins of the Lao people. While there I bought a necklace, a shopping bag and a mug (I’d broken my mug that I bought when travelling down to Phuket 🙁 so I had to replace it.)
One evening we went to the Lao Ballet. I didn’t fully understand the story but the costumes and the dancers were brilliant. The girls so elegant with beautiful hand movements. I was so glad to have seen it. The only problem was a gentleman in front of me who was videoing the whole thing on his iPad…I wanted to ask him why he didn’t just watch it on youtube! I took my photos at the end when invited to do so.
DANCERS – I didn’t get a photo of the girls’ beautiful hands! Here’s one I found on Pinterest
Move on to other images of Luang Prabang
CHECK OUT THE SLIDESHOW ABOVE – A PHOTO DUMP OF LUANG PRABANG. THERE’S EVEN ONE OF ME PRETENDING TO WRITE IN A CAFE. . .IT’S ACTUALLY SOMETHING I NEVER DO. I AM NOT A COFFEE SHOP WRITER.
We took a trip out in a taxi to the Kuang Si Waterfall. Our driver Seet ( that was how it was pronounced but not sure how it’s spelt) was very helpful pointing out various interesting places as we passed them. He asked if we wanted to stop at the tourist elephant spot to ride and feed the elephants but we declined because it wasn’t a sanctuary. Before actually reaching the waterfall we had to walk through a forest where there was a bear sanctuary. The bears were in huge enclosures with plenty of room to move around, play and relax. They seemed happy, which made me happy. Of course we both bought T-shirts and made a donation to the cause.
THE BEAR SANCTUARY
The waterfall was the best thing I’ve done in ages. We arrived early, so it wasn’t too crowded. I’d had the foresight to change into my swimming costume before I left the hotel – wise decision because changing back into dry clothes after I swam was difficult enough in the public toilets with soaking wet floors. I actually changed outside any cubicle. . . but back to the swim. I edged down the stone steps and sat for a minute with my legs dangling in the water. I couldn’t believe all the little fish swimming around my feet but they were harmless and it didn’t put me off taking the plunge. It was cold but not uncomfortably so. A few people were swimming and a couple of Lao women who swam close to me, indicated that I should jump up and down, so I did and we all laughed. I swam out to the waterfall and realised I was smiling the whole time. A wonderful feeling of wellbeing coursed through my body. That might sound over dramatic but the positive effect physically and mentally on me during that swim was something I will never forget.
OUR VISIT TO THE WATERFALL AND THE BEAR SANCTUARY
As we drove away from the waterfall there were an amazing number of white butterflies – it was beautiful. The photo below doesn’t really show how amazing it was. I did take a little video too but I don’t seem to be able to upload it onto here.
We stayed in Luang Prabang for three days and then took the high speed train down to Vientiane where we stayed for just one night before flying to Phnom Penh. The train station was out in the middle of nowhere and we were told to arrive at least an hour before departure as we had to show passports and go through security just like an airport. We were impressed with the train, which took just over two and a half hours to cover the 320 odd kilometres. Built in collaboration with the Chinese it took only four years to complete the stretch from Butan in China to Vientiane. The train was quiet, smooth and well ventilated. Cool inside even though the temperature outside was hovering around 38/39 degrees.
Vientiane offered us nothing, particularly as I had booked a rubbish hotel five kilometres from the centre. The next morning when we took the taxi to the airport and drove through the city, we could see that we hadn’t missed much. However, Phnom Penh was to be a different story. You can read about that next time.